The El Paso Walmart shooting in August was the deadliest in the company's history. Twenty-two customers died, and a further twenty-four were injured in the tragic event - raising questions about businesses’ responsibilities to protect customers from active shooters.
On August 3rd, Patrick Crusius entered the Walmart Supercenter in El Paso, Texas, and opened fire using a legally-owned semi-automatic WASR-10 rifle. Twenty-two customers died in the attack, which was later described by the FBI as an act of domestic terrorism, and a further twenty-four were injured - some of whom have filed legal action against Walmart for failing to adequately protect customers. But what are businesses’ responsibilities to protect customers from active shooters?
The first thing to note is that businesses do not have an absolute duty of care to protect customers from hazards. This means businesses only need implement measures to protect customers if a hazard is “reasonably foreseeable”, and - should a reasonably foreseeable hazard or hazardous event occur - businesses have a reasonable amount of time to resolve the hazard or address the hazardous event. In this respect, Walmart appears to have fulfilled its duty of care in the context of the El Paso shooting.
Walmart’s Duty of Care and Response in El Paso
Some of the injured have complained the El Paso store did not have armed security guards on duty whereas other Walmart stores do. It is true that Walmart stores in high crime areas are patrolled by armed security guards, but - according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report statistics for the one hundred most populated cities in America - El Paso ranks 76th for violent crimes. The likelihood is that Walmart's risk assessment did not identify an active shooter in El Paso as a reasonably foreseeable hazard.
When the event did occur, Walmart’s response is difficult to fault. Due to quarterly active shooter training provided by the company, staff reacted immediately to the “Code Brown” alert and guided hundreds of customers to safety - significantly reducing the number of casualties. The emergency communication system also alerted law enforcement to the incident, who arrived with six minutes - almost half the average time it takes for a police response to an active shooter event.
Could Walmart Have Done More to Protect Customers?
Without placing armed security guards throughout the store, it is difficult to see how Walmart could have done more to protect customers in El Paso. The act of violence was conducted in a relatively safe location by an individual who had travelled 650 miles to commit the atrocity, staff were well-trained in how to react in such a situation, and communication between the store and law enforcement was faster than average. Nonetheless, Walmart has said it is reviewing its customer protection policies.
It’s worth highlighting Walmart’s communication system with law enforcement because, just days before the tragic events in El Paso, a suspended Walmart employee walked into the company’s store in Southaven, Mississippi, and killed two of his managers. He was prevented from any further killing by armed police officers who arrived within three minutes of 9-1-1 being alerted to the active shooter event. Unfortunately, one police officer was injured in the subsequent exchange of fire.
Saving Minutes Saves Lives When an Active Shooter Event Occurs
In 2012, a study of active shooter events by NYC Police Department (PDF) revealed only 16% of the 230 active shooter incidents reviewed ended without “applied force”. A subsequent study conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum (PDF) calculated law enforcement arrives in time to stop half of active shooter events, and the FBI’s Active Shooter Incidents Report 2018 shows 17 of 27 incidents that year ended on the arrival of first responders or due to the attacker being shot by law enforcement officers.
Although none of the reports speculates how many lives were saved by timely responses, it is obvious that the smaller a window of opportunity an active shooter has, the fewer number of lives he or she can take. Therefore, even if a business´s risk assessment shows a negligible likelihood of an active shooter event, it can be worthwhile investing in a communications system similar to the one used in Walmart in order to alert staff and 9-1-1 simultaneously to an active shooter in the minimum possible time.
Accelerating Emergency Responses with Panic Button Technology
Companies are starting to evaluate the technologies they have in place to protect employees and customers in the event of an active shooter threat. Panic button applications are a way to instantly connect with first responders and law enforcement allowing them to respond faster to a shooter incident.
The Rave Panic Button is a mobile phone app with advanced capabilities that accelerate emergency response to many different types of incident. Using the app, a member of staff can alert 9-1-1 and colleagues simultaneously to the nature and location of an emergency with two taps of a smartphone screen. The app´s ease of use eliminates panicked or confused calls to 9-1-1 that can delay emergency responses while ensuring that the correct emergency service is dispatched without delay.
To better prepare first responders for an incident, and enhance situational awareness during an incident, Rave Panic Button integrates with other safety and security installations - including the Rave Facility platform. To find out more about the Rave Panic Button’s capabilities, do not hesitate to get in touch. Our team of safety experts will be happy to organize a demo of Rave Panic Button in action to show how it can enhance your business’s responsibilities to protect customers from active shooters.